Layers of relationship all fresh so far with online friendlie, Mel

Friends Hands by Fabulous Shannen

Friends Hands by Fabulous Shannen

The following is a guest post by SoloPR weekly twitter chat colleague, Judy Gombita. A Canadian Public Relations professional, she is also this blog’s first international guest blogger.

Many people had primary or secondary school teachers who left an indelible mark and provided unique life lessons; I was blessed to have several such guiding lights as I evolved into adulthood.

One was a wonderfully inspiring and creative, enthusiastic and somewhat eccentric English teacher named Mrs. Rusty Ross (no, she didn’t have red hair). Ostensibly, her incredibly popular class was on Shakespeare. But amongst our (often self-absorbed) teenaged selves, we referred to it as The Class on Life. Definitely we studied Shakespeare—with a rigour and comprehension that proved excellent preparation for my first-year university course a few years later. But the real contribution Mrs. Ross gave us was illustrating how Will’s own understanding of the world, in particular people and their ambitions and motivations regarding relationships, really weren’t very different from current times.

And just like William Shakespeare created new words and understanding of human nature, so did Mrs. Ross gift us. For example, how relationships with people scale, from early acquaintances to friendships.

Evermore inserted into my lexicon was her novel word and intermediary concept: “friendlies.”

According to Mrs. Ross, your friendlies are more than acquaintances, but haven’t reached the status of fully bloomed, time-tested lasting friends. You know, the “for life” kind of friend.

Channelling Mrs. Ross when it comes to online relationships

I’m a huge proponent of the power and possibilities of social media, particularly for info sharing, networking and cultivating relationships. But I also characterize myself as a social media pragmatist. Recently, I contributed Teasing out the potential of Twitter chats, Part I and Part II to In fact, it was through #solopr (one of my “featured” chats) that I met Marvellous Mel, proprietress of this captivating blog.

I respect and very much like everything I know about Mel—her smarts, integrity, sector expertise, warmth, people skills and sense of humor. Yet in my mind at this stage I still classify Mel as a “friendlie” rather than a friend.


Simply because we haven’t known each other long enough to test the long-term strength of our online alliance. Yes, we’ve moved large amounts of our conversations offline, sharing more personal information and comparing thoughts, joined networks on LinkedIn, Circled one another on Google+, etc. Despite geographical challenges, we hope to meet face to face at some stage. Not once has a touch point with Mel given me pause.

But it’s still early days.

My analogy

An analogy I often use (I believe I’m the originator, but if I unconsciously co-opted it from someone else, it’s unintentional) is that relationships are like slowly peeling an onion. Most of the time an onion’s layers are fresh, firm and sweet smelling. But every now and then you peel an onion where you hit a brown and soggy layer—maybe even a bit musty and slimy. The question is whether the onion is mainly good (after a bit of judicious editing, talks or negotiations) or if it should be unceremoniously tossed away as largely unusable, i.e., not worthy of the work or consumption experience.

If you travel or live with people you quickly learn how their onion peels out. But online relationships are different. It’s a lot trickier finding out how authentic people are regarding their online personas: how much of what they share can be trusted, ego, their core values, how they treat people (online and off) and so on.

And of course, this works both ways.

Peeling into my thesis a bit more

Recently I’ve been openly critical about how fast people are to append the “friend” and “trust” tags in the online sphere. I believe we need to slow down online friendships and trust and stop devaluing these time-taking concepts.

A notable example: automatically curating blog posts of “tribe” mates into Twitter (even if oh-so-virtuously manually clicking the send button). Forgive me if I think it’s a bit musty and slimy when robo-curation perpetrators suggest we “trust” that their “friends” of three or so months produced posts warranting our valuable reading time. Why should I have faith in their curation decisions in regards to me, when the majority of people observed I’d classify as online acquaintances, not even friendlies?

When this objectionable practice of automating trust first impinged on our collective consciousness, Mel independently voiced the exact reaction as me (as did #solopr’s founder, Kellye Crane).

The fact that our tingly onion sense was the same moved Mel another step up the ladder from friendlie to friend, because critical thinking and articulating objections against perceived dodgy behaviour are things I value.

Offering up my onion for perusal

When Mel lobbied me to write a guest post on her blog, I was touched.

As thanks for trusting I’d contribute something of value, I decided to gift Mel’s space with some personal evolutionary history and a unique word and analogy—concepts I hadn’t fully gelled together or introduced in any other blog post: Mrs. Ross’ definition of friendlies, how relationships are like peeling an onion, plus a need to slow down online friendships and trust.

My hope is that these reflections help move me another step up her friendship ladder.

Some final appeels (sic)

Whether in your professional or personal life, lasting relationships take time; people who work in public relations certainly are cognizant of this fact.

By all means, explore possibilities in the online realm and make lots of new acquaintances. And if all the bytes are feeling right, proactively move into the friendlies phase. But take time to build alliances; maybe even pause to compare and contrast them with your offline friendships.

And never take time away from nurturing relationships that were earlier peeled and stood the onion sniff test of time.

Judy Gombita

Judy Gombita


Judy Gombita is a Toronto-based public relations and communication management specialist, with more than 20 years of employment and executive-level volunteer board experience, primarily in the financial and lifelong learning nonprofit sectors. She is the co-editor and Canadian contributor (since 2007) to the international, collaborative blog, PR Conversations. Find her on Twitter.




  • Jeff Brunson says:

    Thanks Judy for taking the time to post on Mel’s blog; and mostly for making the effort to be friends … and for reminding us of the importance of value contribution in our relationships.

  • Judy Gombita says:

    Thanks for your comment, Jeff.

    I’ve actually benefitted, immensely, from online friendships over the years. Primarily meeting up with people when I’m travelling to their home (i.e., Copenhagen, Denmark or Melbourne and Sydney, Australia) or vice versa.

    But even those relationships were built up over time, in places such as Melcrum and Ragan’s online forums, etc. We’d move from participating in the question and answer debates, to moving offline for more private discussion. But this is over X number of years.

    It seems with social media that everything and everyone wants to be quick, quick, quick. It’s kind of like the difference between grabbing some snack food from a fast-food joint or vending machine, versus a leisurely dinner in a restaurant or (better yet) someone’s home.

    How do you know Mel? Online? Offline? Or a combination of both.

    • maryellen says:

      Judy, first of all thank you for your lovely piece. Secondly, you have a point about the speed of online relationships. Jeff and I have known each other in person for years as professional business colleagues and consultants. Jeff co-founded the CCC, the Collegial Consortium of Consultants here. We get together once a month to have dinner as a group and support one another “IRL.” Then we keep up with one another online in between.

    • Jeff Brunson says:

      Judy, I have the privilege of knowing Mel offline first … and foremost. She and I are part of a consultant’s consortium – for collegiality and we are 2 of 3 brains in a Master Mind group as well.

  • dennie says:

    What a wonderful post, Judy. What a lovely way of moving beyond the concept of “if you’re not one of us, you’re one of them/a stranger”. And a fresh take on the concept of circles of relationships. You certainly chopped to the heart of the matter…

    • Judy Gombita says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Dennie. I heart the way you built in “circles.”

      Most of you probably don’t know that Dennie instituted a wonderful “Similar Circles” networking group in Toronto. It’s primarily for women, but we do get the occasional men. I’ve spent some of the most stimulating, warm and friendly networking evenings at one of Dennie’s “invite only” events.

      A former work colleague introduced me to Dennie (via Similar Circles) a few years ago. We’ve been peeling our onions together since time…also fresh layers revealed.

      Check out Dennie’s wonderful blog. She writes the most insightful blog posts on networking, mentoring and other things…generally in a very succinct fashion. I wish I had her talent for brevity (and a few other things).

  • Refreshing take on our personal and professional online relationships. Love the onion metaphor, and especially appreciate the new concept (to me, at least!) of “friendlie” vs. “friend.” Makes me want to revisit my Google+ circles w/ fresh eyes. But then again, everything you post does that for me. Your Teasing out the potential of Twitter chats, Part I and Part II post certainly opened my eyes to the deeper value of Twitter chats, for example.

    But perhaps the best takeaway here for those of us driven by hourly deadlines is to SLOW DOWN when it comes to online relationships. Push doesn’t work (that well) in online marketing and Push-y doesn’t work in building online relationships. All that speed can cause us to overlook the real glue between us.

    • Judy Gombita says:

      Of course we’ve been working on our “online relationship” a few years ourselves, Brian, with you moving from editing one publication to being a partner in a new venture. Congrats on the early (and fast) success with

      You aren’t too shabby a writer yourself (given that your background is journalism, not too surprising). I heart this:

      “Push doesn’t work (that well) in online marketing and Push-y doesn’t work in building online relationships. All that speed can cause us to overlook the real glue between us.”

      You should trademark the bit about speed and “the real glue between us.”

      Thanks for weighing in, not to mention the tremendous opportunity to do a TWO-PART guest post in the Digital PR Cafe.

  • Renee Preis says:

    Great post Judy! I love and cherish the amazing online relationships I have built with friends I would have never found just 5 years ago. Thank you so much for sharing!!

  • Judy Gombita says:

    Thanks for the feedback, Renee!

    So, I’m curious to know whether you also had a period of time when they were friendlies rather than full-blown “friends.” And, if yes, at what stage in the five years you moved them up the ladder to time-tested “friends.”


  • Linda Pucci says:

    I really like the concept of “friendlies” as a bridge between acquaintances and friends. I suspect that people get assigned the label of “friend” (online or off) because there hasn’t been a term to describe the “friending in process” period of relationship building. Hurray for Mrs. Ross, and hurray for your sharing this!

    • Judy Gombita says:


      It’s so gratifying to find people whom I didn’t know (up until this post) indicating the “friendlies” term resonates—thank you!

      I shared this post with my sister, who also took Mrs. Ross’ The Class on Life (a couple of years before me). What was great was she also remembers learning the term, the same as me. In fact, she asked me whether I knew if Mrs. Ross was still alive (I suspect not…or if she is, she’d be quite advanced in age), as sis thought she would be absolutely delighted to read this post. 🙂

      Re: this sister, it’s only recently that she’s become aware of how active I am in the social media sphere, including just how many acquaintances and friendlies I now have! She’s quite astounded…and impressed.

  • Pretty sure I agree Judy, just mentioned it today the qualifiers; ‘Twitter’ friends, blogging or work friends, etc. I think slowing down and taking things behind the scenes, via DMs and emails and phone calls, I’ve gotten friendlier with some, made deeper connections. I even have a few personal friendlies, back in the day we’d be pen pals; now it’s emails traded that discuss a little of anything.

    But the unqualified friends – the ones who see the unfiltered, sometimes snide, cranky, unpleasant sides, who hear about the struggles and mistakes along with the good, successful personas – they are fewer and much further between, online and off. I think the rush to ‘friend’ status is not limited to the online communities, same layers to peel back. We’re often thrown into situations in which we are social, we are friendly, we do favors and courtesies .. but it’s not the same. FWIW.

    • Judy Gombita says:


      I heart the way you’ve illustrated offline friendlies, “…even have a few personal friendlies, back in the days we’d be pen pals; now it’s emails traded that discuss a little of anything.” So apt!

      You also make me laugh characterizing yourself as “unfiltered, sometimes snide, cranky, unpleasant.…” And it’s true what you described: Real friends give one another some leeway when it comes to accepting and even helping regarding the struggles and mistakes along the way. I’m not sure our online acquaintances are quite so empathetic and forgiving.

      A final kudo for building a(n onion) peel into your last paragraph. I invite you to take this vegetable analogy and run with it for as long and as much as you want…..

      • Hmm.. not sure which veggie (or fruit) but thinking of layers and personalities, circles and follows.. who gets to see what. I may have to attempt some sort of graphic-type something for a post someday.

  • Karen Swim says:

    Judy, this is such a thoughtful and thought provoking piece. It was a pastor for me who drew circles to illustrate the multitude of relationships and how they can co-exist and even overlap. My approach to people whether stranger, friend, friendlie or inner circle is the same – I am always genuine, and seek to honor and respect you regardless of your position in my life. However, the type and level of information I share, or the trust that I bestow is directly related to your position in my life. The ease and accessibility of developing online relationships has not changed my organic process for nurturing relationships with an awareness that there will always be people who are around for a season, those who will never progress to the next level and the rare few who become true, blue for life friends.

    • Judy Gombita says:


      I don’t claim to know you a great deal, but just like Mel, everything I do know about you does ring genuine, including how you honour and respect every person who crosses your path. That comes through. In general, you are such a positive presence—smart and intuitive, fun and warm.

      Between your (wise) pastor’s own circles analogy for relationships and your use of “organic process” both resonate of onions…at least the organic variety! Everything you wrote was so thoughtfully embroidered, but I particularly love your line, “there will always be people who are around for a season….”

      Thanks so much for weighing in. #solopr has brought so many wonderful friendlies into my life, including Mel, Kellye, Davina (above) and of course, YOU!

      • maryellen says:

        So glad for our #solopr friendlies as well Judy and Karen! Thanks for visiting Karen (and for writing, Judy.)

        • Judy Gombita says:

          You’re welcome, Mel. Thanks for the opportunity. I’m as pleased as you how many comments this post got, from people I know and (even more exciting) some that I don’t know.

          I guess another guest post gets “above the fold” placement on Monday (tomorrow). Here’s wishing it a similar success re: engagement.

          • maryellen says:

            Thanks Judy. Yes, there was certainly a lot of great conversation here thanks to your well thought-out piece.

        • Kellye Crane says:

          A late reply from this friendlie (sorry), but the fact that #solopr helps bring together such wonderful people is the most gratifying thing about it.

          I agree with Judy and Karen that trust is the key ingredient in the evolution of a relationship. Trust must be earned over time, and isn’t bestowed all at once in one fell swoop. The movement between acquaintance-friendlie-friend is a continuum, both online and off.

          But regardless of where we are on this continuum, we can learn from each other. The opportunity to learn from more people is my favorite part of social media.

  • Sue Painter says:

    I like that term “friendlies” – I’ve needed a term that describes something between acquaintance and good friend. Your point is taken that in the end, superficial relationships won’t last – whether they are online or IRL.

    • Judy Gombita says:


      Another friendlies convert—I’m feeling quite pleased. Very true what you said about the lasting aspect. I’d only qualify it by indicating it’s not always because the relationships are superficial. Sometimes they are right for a time and place in your life, just not for always. An example would be “travel” friendlies/friends, that you keep in touch with for a period of time, perhaps even visiting at some point…but then it wanes away. Maybe it’s best to reflect on how genuine the relationship was for that period, versus the length of time or breadth of the relationship.

      I appreciate you commenting. Cheers.

  • Thanks for the wonderful and insightful post, Judy. It’s just the reminder I needed to focus on building real relationships online. I think too often social media makes us more anti-social and superficial. And I am so stealing the word friendlies. Love it!

    • Judy Gombita says:

      If I offer up Mrs. Ross’ unique word to the Marketing Mel blog world, it can hardly be considered “stealing.” In fact, I think it would give her great delight to know that so many years later the word has been given new momentum.

      Thanks for the *positive* feedback.

      BTW, I will share another Mrs. Rossism (never heard anywhere else, except as attributed to her):

      A person only feels badly if she or he has defective fingertips!

      (She would generally add, “After all, do you feel goodly?”)


      • maryellen says:

        If we were fortunate we all had a Mrs. Ross or two in our educational careers. We treasure their memories and what we learned from a great teacher for the rest of our lives. Honored that Mrs. Ross had the chance to live on here on my blog Judy.

  • Bill Painter says:

    Thanks for the contribution. I am fairly new to social media and it is kind of baffling to make”friends” of folks that I amnot sure of the connection much less a relationship.

    • maryellen says:

      I know what you mean Bill and yet the term is used quite loosely!

    • Judy Gombita says:

      Just use the Mrs. Ross scale, Bill. On first meeting they are simply social media “acquaintances.” If you continue to interact with them and move some conversations (and further connections) offline, than they move to friendlies.

      I really appreciate the fact that some men are weighing in on this topic. Do you think social media has “allowed” men the opportunity to articulate their thoughts on “friendships” more readily?

  • Judy – Mel made a great choice is asking you to write a guest post for her blog. So well written, so to the point, and so RIGHT ON. I have made some unbelievable friendships that have originated from Facebook and Twitter … but they transitioned to real, solid, test-of-time friendships through our offline conversations and meeting up in person to really get to know each other better.

    I do agree that many jump into business relationships far too quickly online, retweeting posts and sharing stories on Facebook from people they barely know but think are influential … but that is a whole different post!

    Thank you so much for your insights!

    Jennifer Bourn, Bourn Creative

    • Judy Gombita says:

      Such a lovely comment to receive after this guest post has gone “below the fold,” Jennifer. Thank you so much!

      There’s a great chart inside Philip Sheldrake’s book, The Business of Influence, which shows the manifestations of both short- and longer-term influence. Relevancy, Resonance and Engagement can translate to Reputation, Trust and Authenticity…just the way moving up the (online) friendship ladder would. (The full chart is in my Part I “Teasing out the potential of Twitter chats,” linked to in the above post.)

      Again, my appreciation for your kind comments. Wishing you many more fruitful relationships, developed both online and off.

  • Thank you for such a well-written post, Judy. Mrs. Ross’ concept of “friendlies” really resonates with me. Goodness, It took me at least a year before I would accept facebook friend requests from people I didn’t consider true offline friends. The term “friend” is not a word I use lightly. I’ve categorized my peeps like this: acquaintences, friends, confidants (My BFFs).

    • Judy Gombita says:

      Interesting…so a “confidant” is a level above a (mere) friend.

      I suspect you are unusual at how slow you were to accept Facebook “friends” Tiffany. (Note that I never joined Facebook.)

      I must admit I was rather taken aback when someone I had a great deal of interaction with via Twitter, etc., refused my request to join my LinkedIn network, because she “only linked up with people she actually knew or had worked with in her city.”

      Huh? Talk about limiting yourself on the *primary* business social network (at least at this stage). And her probably unintended result: I was less interested in “interacting” with her online.

      Note that I have been on LinkedIn since the beta stage in 2003, and I am usually the recipient of invitations, rather than vice versa. And if it’s someone I don’t recognize…I ask them have we met or interacted and/or why they want to join networks. But for me LinkedIn is a professional network, not one for “friends” as per Facebook.

      The long and short of it: many of us are redefining “relationships” in the online sphere.

      Thank you for your comment, Tiffany. I continue to be amazed and gratified at the positive reception to this guest post.

      • maryellen says:

        Judy I very much agree with Tiffany about the hesitation to “friend” people on Facebook. As Ben Mezrich points out in the Accidental Billionaires however, the whole initial point of Facebook was to speed the pace of friendship. That way the jocks and computer geeks who didn’t normally get to meet girls because they were so busy got to move quickly past the formalities. It’s quite a different concept and one certainly not built on time and layers of trust. I like you enjoy LI for professional networking and am more “open” to receiving people there just as I would at a chamber function.

6 Trackbacks and Pingbacks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *